Diagnosing dementia is a complex and difficult process. There is no one test that can tell if someone does or does not have Alzheimer's disease or another dementia. One of the tests your doctor will use is a mental status test. Various forms of this test exist, but the important point is that the doctor administers and evaluates the test using skill, knowledge and experience. This is different from memory screening tests, which are done in the community without professional analysis.
What is memory screening?
Memory screening done in the community (or “population-based memory screening”), usually involves giving someone a simple mental status test. After the test, the result is a number that shows if someone may have memory problems.
Often these brief mental tests result in "false positives" and "false negatives." A "false positive" is when a person who doesn’t have Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia still fails or scores poorly on the test. A "false negative" happens when person who does have Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia "passes" or scores well on the test.
It takes time and expertise to diagnosis dementia, because the doctors first have to rule out other possible causes, such as depression, thyroid or heart disease, infections, drug reactions or alcohol abuse.
Alzheimer Society position on memory screening
The Alzheimer Society does not agree with population-based memory screening as a way to identify people who should see a doctor to be evaluated. This stand is based on advice given by leading dementia researchers and doctors in Canada.
Last Updated: 12/13/11